The Last Pantheacon, and What’s Next

Pantheacon, the largest indoor gathering of Pagans in North America, is no more. For a variety of reasons, Glenn Turner, the organizer, has decided to close it down and is retiring.

I have been associated with PCon for a very long time. I attended the first one (I think), and have been to most of them over the 20-odd years it continued. It was a chance to see friends I didn’t see otherwise, to learn new things, meet new people, enjoy performances and generally to enjoy a majority-Pagan space for awhile, in stark contrast to the ordinary world.

In recent years, it has provided opportunities to present and share about Atheopaganism, to meet fellow Atheopagans, and to discuss our growing path.

The love was palpable. The parties were epic. (Many of) the rituals were powerful.

It was a good time.

This year was no exception. I enjoyed myself greatly, our round-table discussion on nontheist Paganism was packed, one of the rituals I led went terrifically (the other was kind of meh, to  be honest). I was glad to be there.

That said, Pantheacon had its problems. It was slow to respond to problems with bigotry and lack of safety on the part of oppressed minorities, and as a for-profit enterprise, it was not in any way transparent about its finances nor its decision making.

I have written before about how the Pagan community is changing. While there is a movement to have a new event in the same hotel and over the same weekend, but under new vision and management, next year, I believe that we have simply become too big for a single major event to accommodate us either in our diversity nor in our numbers.

I think and hope that smaller regional events will begin to connect Pagans from their local areas not only with one another, but with their land and biome. Certainly the experience of traveling long distances to get together with fellow Pagans does not bring us into closer encounter with the Earth.

Accordingly, I am organizing an event in June called Midsummer Dawn. Held in a group campground at a magnificent local state park, Sugarloaf Ridge, it will be an opportunity to get together with like-minded others, hike in magnificent country, enjoy one another’s company and conduct a couple of evening rituals.

Midsummer Dawn will be simple. It will have no workshops, nor vending spaces. It’s just a camping trip intentionally focused on Pagan folk, with some rituals to connect us with one another and with the land. While not the four-day rush of Pantheacon, I think it will take us into joyful places together.

It will certainly have a far smaller ecological footprint, and that counts for a lot in my book.

What I most loved about Pantheacon was seeing my friends, and making new ones. In California—because fire is such a danger in the summer—it is very difficult to create a large outdoor festival for Pagans, so we have to go small. I hope my friends and folks I don’t yet know will take a chance on a low-cost event like Midsummer Dawn.

In the meantime: thanks, Glenn. Thanks to all the many volunteers who made the event possible over all those years. Thanks to those who sought to keep it accountable to progressive Pagan values. Thanks to those who helped to create the many golden moments I will cherish from Pantheacon.

Growth is Change

Paganism generally—and Atheopaganism specifically—comprise intersecting sets of growing communities.

And as we grow, we change.

Generally, for example, the Atheopaganism Facebook group has been a very kind, warm context, but there has been more friction lately, and a need for more hands-on moderation.

This is inevitable. When we were a group of 300 people, it was easy for people to know one another and for norms and conduct standards to be implemented organically.

But now, there are nearly 2,000 people in the group, with about 20-30 coming in each week. Those folks don’t know the group vibe yet, and some of them are used to an Internet that is pugnacious and argumentative… as well, for those who have belonged to other Pagan online groups, as deeply credulous in scientifically unsupported beliefs.

None of this is anyone’s fault. It is a natural result of the growing popularity of Atheopaganism as a path and a community. And fortunately, we’ve been able to calm the waters again and return to a thoughtful, kind atmosphere most of the time.

What I’ve seen in the broader Pagan community is that while we once all practiced together and didn’t worry about who believed what, we are becoming increasingly segmented by ideology and tradition. Unfortunate, to some degree, but also inevitable, humans being as they are.

As I write this, smaller Atheopaganism groups focused geographically are starting to define themselves. I think this is great. But it is once again, a change driven by growth: there are now enough Southern Hemisphere Atheopagans, UK Atheopagans, Dallas/Fort Worth Atheopagans and New York/New Jersey Atheopagans to make the leap at convening their own online (and, in some cases, real world) spaces.

What does this mean for me? Honestly, not too much other than the thrill of seeing my baby stand up on its hind legs and start to toddle along on its own. I am going to keep right on creating material and resources and events, and helping to get the word out about this path as a viable option for scientifically-minded people who yet seek meaning and connection and a sense of values and purpose. I’m drawn to stay in touch with such smaller groups, but as they proliferate that may not be possible with all of them. I’m only one person, after all, with work and a life.

A part of this transition that I really love, in fact, is that I have never wanted to be “the leader of Atheopaganism”. I’m the founder, but that doesn’t have to make me the leader. All I can do is speak the truth as I see it, exercise my creativity in celebration of what brings me joy and wonder, and encourage and foster others as they create their own practices, however much or little they may draw upon my ideas.

So here is to change! May it bring happy surprises and lucky breaks, and many more fellow journeyers with whom to share this path we are creating together.

 

 

I’m Gonna Go There: A Rant.

Paganism is a very broad category. It includes a tremendous range of traditions, practices and paths. Which is as should be: people are diverse. They should do what gives them joy and meaning.

So it can be about many things. It can be about rituals and “magic”. It can be about the Earth. It can be about gods. It can be about principles for living. It can be about activism.

But you know, one thing we can say with confidence is that at its heart, Paganism is not about owning witchy clothes, or fancy tools, or other trappings. It’s not about Harry Potter or goth aesthetics or LOTR or Renaissance Faires, however much we may enjoy them.

And it’s not about collecting The Right Books.

Or writing books.

Or people claiming status or authority because they wrote a book.*

It is–or should be–about empowering us, strengthening our sense of personal agency, our senses of wonder and meaning in living, of joy in one another. About respecting our minds and encouraging that we use them. Building community. Fostering creativity in the ritual arts so people find what works best for them. Encouraging ecological responsibility, and making concrete efforts to make the world a better place.

But no, sorry. That isn’t what I see our community primarily focused on, folks.

I see it focusing most of its attention and energy on commerce.

We have a terrible problem in our community of people looking to “authorities” for what to believe, how to think, how to be, how to practice. With self-defined “leaders” who claim to know and teach “mysteries and wonders”—for a price—and with the sheer gullibility such figures encourage their followers to maintain. And the endless flogging of goods for sale.

Don’t think for yourselves, these “teachers” seem to be saying. Listen to me instead, and keep listening. You need what I’ve got. Take my workshops. Buy my books. Buy my products. Here, buy my magic rocks/potions/oils/tinctures/sigils/sex toys!

Buy buy buy buy buy.

Buy my bullshit.

Nowhere in all that miracle-claiming and hocus pocus sales pitching is an adjuration that your mileage may vary, to think for yourself, or to apply critical thinking to discern likely truth from likely nonsense. Nowhere is a suggestion that you don’t need anything from some Big Name Pagan to be an effective ritualist, a wise, strong, effective, happy and conscientious person.

Religion as grift is an epidemic in the United States, with its prosperity gospel megachurches and televangelists. But Paganism suffers even worse from it, proportionately, than does Christianity.

Sadly, I say:

Show me a Pagan who makes their living solely off their religion,
and I’ll show you a modern-day medicine show barker.

There are exceptions, but they are rare, and they tend to be humble, and focused on bettering the world rather than on themselves and their “magickal arts”.

Most of the Pagans I know are bright, interesting and creative. And yet they line up to fawn over these hucksters at conventions. They buy their books and products; they shovel money at them. And no one urges them to do otherwise.

So long as 1) the acquisition of Pagan “stuff” is seen as a significant signifier of “being a Pagan”; 2) “celebrity Pagan” worship continues to dominate Pagan spaces; and 3) self-interest is a primary driver of said Pagan “celebrities”, Paganism writ large will be just another capitalist market, and…yes, I will say it, a complete sham when it comes to reverence for the Sacred Earth.

We could be so much better than this!

What if Paganism as a whole turned its back on consumer culture?

What if we stipulated that the only things that could be sold at our conventions would be things made by hand by the vendor? No reproductions from Chinese factories, no products of Nature like mineral specimens. Hand-crafted art and products, period, full stop.

I’ve dutifully trudged the hall at Pantheacon  every year I’ve attended, and I’m proud to say I haven’t seen one single thing I felt an urge to buy in more than a decade. It all just strikes me as wasteful, Earth-destructive and well beside the point of a meaningful practice and path.

I understand that much of what is sold there is handcrafted, but honestly, a lot of it is mass-produced in China and India, too.

I’m not against art, and I want to support our community’s artisans, but I am against hucksterism and mass-produced commercialism. I think we need to go in a different direction.

I made nearly all my ritual tools, and I sourced most of the rest from outside the Pagan marketplace. I’m done: I don’t need another, ever again. Nor do I need a bloody book to tell me how to use each one.

I have a couple of Tarot decks; I don’t need more, what I need is to explore the ones I have more deeply.

I don’t believe in “magic rocks” and I won’t be a part of the destructive industry that pries them from the Earth to market to the credulous.

I don’t need witchy clothing and I don’t need need fifteen symbols clanking around my neck. I sewed my own cloak and that will do.

I have a couple of drums, and that’s enough. Can only play one at a time, after all.

The world is full of sticks; why on Earth would I want a Harry-Potter-style wand?

I don’t need any of the junk being ground from the fabric of the Earth (and often, the poorly paid labor of the less fortunate) to sell to Pagans. I get my candles at a grocery store and that’s the only ritual consumable I buy.

Now, there is a little merchandise offered on this site. Mostly self-identifier items, so people can proclaim their status as Atheopagans to the world when the occasion demands (or not): T-shirts, clerical collar pins and stoles, etc. Small stuff, and none of it expensive. But all of it except the third-party (wooden and metal) Atheopagan symbols generates revenue for our chosen charity, Indigenous Climate Action. Not for me.

You don’t need stuff to live this path fully. As an experienced ritualist of my acquaintance once said, “If you can’t do it with a stick you picked up on the way to the circle, you can’t do it at all.”

Yes, restricting vendors would mean that event organizers would make less money. And it would mean that Pagan artists couldn’t branch out into mass production for purposes of convention sales.

I’m sorry, but I’m okay with that.

Along similar lines, sure, folks: crib ideas from others if they appeal to you. Lots of people have good ideas. And effective ritual is rooted in scientific facts about the way the brain works; we can learn these from others who know about them and be more effective in influencing ourselves and our co-ritualists.

But the only authority on making your ritual “magic” is you. Only you know what is meaningful and evocative for you. So when someone starts going on about how they can teach you “mysteries” or how to “work with energy” or how you need some particular product or book in order to conduct a ritual, it’s time to secure yourself a ten-foot pole.

That’s just marketing, and it’s as credible as a Facebook ad.

If we collectively pulled the financial plug on Pagan hucksterism, not only would our ecological footprint as a community go down considerably, but perhaps more importantly, it would become immediately obvious which of our “leaders” are in it for themselves, and which for the betterment of the community and the world. The latter we can support through vehicles like Patreon.

Shouldn’t we be able to live the meaningful, powerful religious paths we choose without needing them to incorporate shopping sprees for resource-consuming, inconsequential toys and baubles?

Shouldn’t we be able to think for ourselves and dismiss the barrage of hucksterism for the hollow and meaningless capitalistic chatter it is?

In short, shouldn’t we in the Pagan community, the so-called “wise”, be frickin’ responsible grown ups?

My vision of Paganism is as a radically empowering, thoughtful, idiosyncratic, and culturally transgressive path of liberty, community, equality, and service: both to one another and to the Earth. Maybe not everyone shares that, and that’s fine, but I don’t really think that being a community of little capitalist bees busily spinning money for ourselves wherever possible is consistent with Earth reverence or with the values we so often say we represent.

/rant

OK.

Cue the howls of outrage in 3…2…1…


*Yes, let me acknowledge: I wrote a book, and I offer a class. I hope to support all those pursuing nontheist Pagan paths in the development of the practices they choose, which is why the class costs so little and most of the material in the book is also available here for free. Neither comprises a significant element of my personal financial support. And I claim to be an authority only insofar as my own path. It is my offering and invitation to others to partake of what I create, if it works for them. I do not EVER claim to “know the right way to do things”.